Fun_People Archive
16 May
Statement by Dr. Tenzin Choedrak before US Congress

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 16 May 96 14:11:35 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: Statement by Dr. Tenzin Choedrak before US Congress

Forwarded-by: "Cantor, Steven" <>

[...  the following is not even remotely fun.     s.]

Statement by Dr. Tenzin Choedrak before US Congress
Statement by Dr. Tenzin Choedrak before the House International Relations
Committee Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights
 May 8, 1996

	"Victim of Chinese Torture in Tibet"

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee for providing
me the opportunity to testify before you today.

My name is Tenzin Choedrak and I am a practitioner of traditional Tibetan
medicine.  For 17 years of my life, I had to undergo different forms of
torture by China's occupying forces in Tibet.  The fact that I have survived
to tell this tale before this august body is not because the torture that
was inflicted upon me was mild.  Rather, my religious practice and my
medical knowledge helped me to overcome my suffering

It is nearly 20 years since I regained my freedom, but the memory of my
prison days is still fresh in my mind.  Although I live in freedom and
dignity now, I am very mindful of the fact that the suffering that I endured
many years ago is still occurring to thousands of Tibetans today.

A number of human rights organizations, including the International Campaign
for Tibet, have documented that torture continues to be routinely practiced
against Tibet's political prisoners.  Common techniques include regular
beatings, the shackling of hands and feet, the use of thumb locks and the
application of electric cattle prods to sensitive parts of the body,
including the mouth and genitals.

Ill-treatment of Tibetans occurs even before they reach the prisons and
detention centers.  When a prisoner is taken to the police station on the
day of detention, it is not uncommon for him or her to be beaten and
tortured.  In fact, new techniques are now being used against these newly
detained Tibetans, techniques which leave no marks on the body.  Such
methods include being placed under extremely cold conditions and then being
abruptly subjected to hot conditions, being made to stand barefoot for over
24 hours at a time, and being interrogated for 12 to 24 hours without food
or water.

In recent years, there have been twelve documented cases of individuals who
have died from ill-treatment and lack of medical care inside prisons and
detention centers, and it is suspected that there are dozens more.  One
recent case, a twenty-four year old nun, Gyaltsen Kelsang, died in 1995
after she was beaten in prison and was forced to continue to perform hard
labor without being provided medical attention.

I have also treated torture victims myself, including a 24 year old nun from
Lhasa, Tibet's capital, who escaped in 1989 after having been subjected to
sticks being forced into her genitals while in incarceration.  Another 24
year old nun, Soyang, who is my niece, required treatment for heart problems
when she arrived into exile in 1993 because the Chinese had let dogs loose
to attack her.  This year, I treated a monk whose back was very swollen from
severe beatings he received while in prison in Tibet.  I also treated Palden
Gyatso, who testified before this Subcommittee last year on the torture he
received by Chinese guards in Tibet.  In addition, I know of many women in
nunneries in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, who
have suffered torture.  At the inpatient department of the medical institute
in Dharamsala, where I work, we have on average of 5 patients in our beds
who need medical attention for torture wounds.

My own ordeal began on March 10, 1959 when the people of Lhasa rose up in
unison against China's ten-year old occupation of Tibet.  This uprising was
ruthlessly suppressed by Chinese forces.  In the subsequent days, there were
constant sounds of artillery as Chinese military personnel bombarded Lhasa.
Being one of the personal physicians of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I was
then residing in the residential complex of the Dalai Lama's parents.

On the afternoon of March 22, Chinese troops arrived at our compound.
Without warning, they started shooting; four people in our house who had
gone out to meet the soldiers were killed immediately.  The soldiers, who
were armed with machine guns, then stormed the building, shooting recklessly
and ransacking the entire area.  Everyone living in the compound, including
myself, was rounded up in one windowless room on the first floor.

The next evening, we were informed that we were being selected for
"studies", what we believed to be a euphemism for execution.  We were then
led out of the compound to the outskirts of the city and placed in a small
room of a private house.  For the next two days, we did not get any food or
water.  On the second night we were led from the room to the local People's
Liberation Army (PLA) headquarters and kept in a maximum security prison
there.  I was manacled in foot-and-a-half-long leg irons.  Each time I took
a step the irons pinched my skin, giving me pain.

As the days went by, I began to witness gruesome sessions of "Thamzing",
which were methods of interrogation combined with force that were peculiar
to Communist Chinese officials.  One such method involved tying the prisoner
in such a way as to give him maximum suffering.  For example, a rope was
first laid across the front of the prisoner's chest and then spiraled down
each arm.  The wrists were then tied together and pulled backwards over the
man's head.  Next the rope-ends were drawn under either armpit, threaded
through the loop on the chest and pulled abruptly down.  Immediately the
shoulders turned in their sockets, wrenching the prisoner in a grisly
contortion without strangling him.  The pain from this torture was so great
that a man would invariably lose control of his bowels and bladder.

A few months after my arrest, I was put on trial and accused of being an
accomplice in the uprising against the Chinese invaders.  As the trial
progressed, I began to realize that I was being singled out for a specific
purpose: to malign and defame His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  For instance,
my questioners told me at one time that the way to avoid Thamzing would be
to confirm that the Dalai Lama was a thief and a murderer, posing as a
religious man, and that he had an incestuous relationship with his sister.

After a few days of interrogation, I was then subjected to the first of a
series of Thamzing.  It began one morning with the PLA commander asking my
fellow prisoners to "question Tenzin Choedrak very closely.  You must find
the truth." As one prisoner rose up asking me to tell everything, others
grabbed me, tying my arms across a long board in a variation of the method
that had previously been used.  Trailing the rope off either end my arms
were pulled tight even while I was asked to denounce the Dalai Lama.   When
I refused, the prisoners, under the watchful eyes of the guards, started
beating me, pulling my hairs and ears, spitting on my face and pummeling my
head.  The pain in my arm was so great that I began to scream and it was
only when I collapsed that the guards called for a halt.  However, the
beating resumed after a short rest and this pattern was repeated throughout
that morning.  In all, this session lasted four hours.

I was then removed from the cell and placed in solitary confinement.   Of
course, I was too weak to be aware of the shift in my location.  It was only
when I recovered that I found myself in a dark room, four by eight feet in
dimension, with a small, barred window, high in one wall, and a
six-inch-square hole for receiving food.  On the mud floor lay a straw mat,
a discarded PLA overcoat and a bucket for relieving myself.  I was to spend
the next four months -- the remainder of the summer of 1959 -- in this
isolated area.

My daily routine included thinking over my "crimes" for the entire day.
The door of the food portal (I only received a small steamed bun with some
rice and vegetable in the morning through this) would open at regular
intervals throughout the day and a guard would check to see if I was visibly
pondering.  My only relief was a brief glimpse of sky and breath of fresh
air on the evening walk to the toilet.  On the last day of each week, I
would be taken out of the cell for questioning and asked what I had been
thinking about for the past six days.

Halfway through July, I was subjected to a second session of Thamzing.
Again, I received severe beatings which caused damage to my eyes.  By the
time I was dragged back to my cell, I realized that the retina of my left
eye had been detached and the eyeball itself knocked to the upper left side
of its socket.  I could no longer focus straight ahead.  I also found that
the entire upper row of my teeth had come loose.  Within a month, all my
teeth fell out, leaving me with swollen and bloody gums.  My shattered mouth
and damaged eye remain a permanent scar from that particular Thamzing
session.  In August of that year, I subjected to an even more intense and
brutal Thamzing session.

I will not trouble you with graphic details of that particular torture
session.  However, at the end of it, I had lost all sense of pain.  My only
sensation was that of an intense dryness in the mouth.  As the dryness
increased, I blacked out and when I regained consciousness, I was still
imagining receiving blows.  In reality, I was lying on the floor of the
isolation cell; a bucket of cold water had just been thrown over my face.
When the guards realized that I had revived, they yanked me to my feet and
handcuffed me.  Months later, I learned from my cellmates that when I
collapsed, a PLA doctor was summoned, which was contrary to the medical
attention that most Tibetans prisoners received.  The doctor had pronounced
that I was on the verge of death and he therefore refused to take
responsibility for my case.  Sometime thereafter, the Thamzing session

In October 1959, I was among 79 prisoners who were taken to China.   Our
journey began in November when we were put in trucks, 38 prisoners in each
truck.  We were forced to stand for the entire journey, which lasted ten
days.  On the 11th day, we reached Lake Kokonor in northeast Tibet and we
were then transported east, toward Lanzhou, by train.  From Lanzhou, we were
split into two groups and my group was driven north, toward the Gobi desert.
We finally reached Jiuzhen Prison, our destination, which was part of the
dreaded gulags the Chinese had set up in the region.  We were huddled
together in small, cramped cells which provided only a foot and a half of
space for a single prisoner.  Each day we were led to work in the fields.
Guarded by PLA soldiers, who would shoot any man crossing his field's
perimeter, we had to break enough barren ground daily, including irrigation
ditches, to be suitable for cultivating thirty pounds of wheat.  A point
system rewarded those who completed their quota, something a strong man
could barely manage to do.  Those who did not were punished.  Returning from
the day's labor, we had to undergo political "study sessions" lasting until
10 p.m.  In addition, prisoners were randomly taken for a full-day of
questioning in an attempt to wear them down.  In May of 1960, six months
after our arrival in Jiuzhen prison, our rations were reduced from sixteen
and a half to eight and a half pounds a month.  To save yet more grain, the
authorities started mixing indigestible roots and barks with the food.
Hunger governed our every thought.  With the beginning of summer, the first
symptom of starvation appeared: extreme enervation.  By July, we all
resembled living skeletons.  Ribs, hips and shin bones protruded from our
bodies, our chests were concave, our eyes bulged and our teeth (those who
still possessed them) were loose.  Gradually our eyebrows and hair, once
shiny and black, turned russet, then beige and then fell out, the hair
coming loose from the skin with just a slight pull.  No one could walk
securely.  Leg joints felt locked in place, our feet were dragged along,
too heavy to lift.  When we returned from work we literally crashed down,
unable to check our fall.  The first death, which had been expected,
occurred only a year and a half later.  We did not grieve, however, for we
had lost all of our senses except for an ability to quarrel over food.  We
now realized that we were sentenced to die through forced labor, instead of
being executed, so that the authorities could appear blameless.  Within just
a few days, the next man died.  From then on, an average of two to three
prisoners died every week with the longest interval between deaths lasting
no more than a fortnight.  Death of a fellow prisoner occasionally provided
an increase in rations -- for a single day at least.  The loss could be
hidden from the guards and the deceased's rations obtained.  I was able to
share an extra ration with another prisoner through this method when we
found the man lying next to me dead one morning.  As the starvation
continued we began to consume our own clothes.   Leather ropes, used to tie
the bundles brought from Tibet, were cut into daily portions with stones
and shovels.  Each piece was slowly chewed during work, in the hope that
some strength could thereby be gained.  I owned a fur-lined jacket, which
had proved invaluable through the first winter, but in the course of the
following summer, I was compelled to eat it.  I began eating the fur.  As
winter came again, I managed to roast the rest of my jacket, piece by piece,
over a fire and eat it.  The other prisoners and myself also picked many
plants -- dandelions were a favorite -- walking to and from the fields.  We
also hunted for frogs and insects and dug for worms.  A more constant source
of food was the refuse discarded by Chinese guards.  Crowds of prisoners
would gather around bones or fruit rinds thrown by the roadside.  As we were
completing our first year in Jiuzhen, I collapsed and was hospitalized for
three months.  I recovered quicker than others in the hospital because I
was able to develop a form of self cure.  On my return to work at Jiuzhen,
I learned that the death toll had soared.  By October of 1962, only 21
Tibetans had survived.  In that month, we were informed that we would be
allowed to return to Tibet.  We were transported to Drapchi, Tibet's
foremost prison in Lhasa.  I was placed in a 14-man cell only 16 by 12 feet
in dimension.  It was so small that when each prisoner slept head to head
in two rows, our feet hit the walls forcing us to bend our knees.  We were
forced to spend every waking hour in study, to confess our faults daily and
to inform on our neighbor.  It was at this time that mental breakdowns,
depression and suicidal behavior appeared amongst fellow prisoners.  By this
time, I had spent many years in prison, but no formal charge had been
brought against me nor had I received a sentence.  It was only in 1972 --
nearly 13 years since my arrest -- that I finally received my sentence.
Although no charges were placed against me, I was considered an "upper class
intelligentsia associated with the former Tibetan government" -- and was
given a 17 year sentence.  Following my sentencing, I was transferred to a
less restrictive branch of Sangyib prison, also in Lhasa.  My "reeducation"
being deemed complete, I was assigned to hard labor in the prison's quarry.
Every day, I was forced to chisel 90 twelve-by-eight-inch stone blocks from
boulders blasted out of the mountainside nearby.  I could barely perform my
share of work.  In the next year, a Chinese prison doctor, who was familiar
with my medical knowledge, consulted me on a personal ailment when he
learned that I was in Sangyib prison.  The Chinese doctor recovered using
my treatment and before long, I was removed from my cell and sent to work
in Sangyib hospital.  In 1976, having completed my full sentence, I was
placed outside of Sangyib prison although still considered "an enemy of the
people".  I was able to practice medicine once more and also started
receiving a small salary for my work at the hospital.  In the meanwhile,
direct contact between the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and the Chinese
Government was being established.  As a result, the first-ever fact-finding
delegation from Dharamsala visited Tibet in 1979.  That delegation included
Mr. Lobsang Samten, a brother of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  He took up
my case with the Chinese Government and asked them to permit me to visit
India.  The process took over a year and it was only in October 1980 that
I finally left for India.  I reached Dharamsala in November 1980.  I was
once again a free man.

Today, the Chinese government seeks to join the mainstream of the
international community while at the same time it continues to deny that
torture and ill-treatment of Chinese and Tibetan political prisoners is
widespread and commonplace.  As someone who has been a victim of torture by
the Chinese government, I would urge the United States government to use
its vast influence to bring about a positive change in China's treatment of
the Chinese and Tibetan people.  I would also urge the U.S.  to support
efforts by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to peacefully resolve the situation
in Tibet.  I am very thankful for having been given the opportunity to
address this Subcommittee.  Although the reminder of my ordeal brings much
personal agony to me, I realize I have to speak out so that those Tibetans
still in Chinese prisons may have a better life.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Tashi Delek.

Submitted by ICT, Washington, D.C

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